New Zealand: South Island

Well, to start this one off I have to say that New Zealand was great! In fact if any of my friends or famly are planning to go let me know and I will invite myself to tag along. The entire country was beautiful, especially the South Island. The kiwis themselves were friendly, hospitable, adventurous (They've invented several activities for adrenalin junkies), and fun. The only downside was occasionally the weather but we were warned about that and should have expected it. It was just a fantastic place to visit.

We flew into Christchurch (South Island) on September 18th and rented a campervan, which is a popular way to explore the country. For those who don't know, a campervan is basically an RV. We had a Mercedes Sprinter that was entirely self-contained with shower, bathroom and kitchen.

Here is our Sprinter. The bench seats in the back turned into a bed.

Arpita wasn't really a fan for the first 2 nights, even less so when we ran out LP (and thus heat) during a 30 some-odd degree night, but she warmed up to it as we went and eventually found it fun.

Our plan for New Zealand was essentially the same as for Australia; we had no plans and decided to take it day by day. The nice thing about the campervan is that we didn't need to worry about any reservations. We could pull off on the side of the road if necessary, or in most towns, there was a holiday park that had RV sites, dump stations, and facitities. We spent a total of 16 days on the south Island before crossing the cook strait to the North Island.

Here are some of the places we visited. We basically made figure 8 around the island, starting in Christ Church and ending up in Picton. We covered a lot of ground, 3,633 km on the South Island alone!

Here are some of our favorite pictures/places:

This is Lake Tekapo in Central New Zealand. It is a glacial lake near Mount Cook National Park.

Lake Tekapo in the morning

Lake Pukaki, one of the other glacial lakes. Mount Cook would be in the center of the photo but it is hidden in the clouds where it remained for our entire trip.

We drove into Mount Cook National park anyway and did a couple of short hikes to the Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake. The rock flour is very evident here in the milky white color of the water at Tasman Lake.

The Tasman glacier is the largest glacier in New Zealand. It is visible on the far side of the lake.

We left the mountains for a bit and drove around the southern portion of the island through Dunedin and Invercargill. The weather was kind of rainy and foggy which made the so-called “southern scenic route” not so scenic. The highlight along this portion was the Yellow-eyed penguin, or Hoiho. This is one of the rarest penguins in the world with only around 4000 left in the world. We were able to see a few coming out of the water near nugget point between Dunedin and Invercargill!

One of our favorite spots in New Zealand was in Fjordland National Park on the South West Portion of the Island. This is one of the more remote parts of the Island. We had heard good things about both Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound so we decided to do both. We first took an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound followed by a 2 hour cruise on Milford Sound. Neither Doubtful or Milford are true sounds. Both are technically fjords as they were carved by glaciers. This region also gets A LOT of rain, somewhere around 7 meters/year! It was one of the few places where we got lucky with the weather.

Doubtful sound is the more remote of the 2 being accessible only by a boat across a lake followed by a bus ride over a mountain pass to the fjord. It was named by Captain Cook who thought that if he sailed in, it was doubtful that he'd be able to sail out.

Doubtful Sound from Wilmot's Pass

Our Ship

We did a little kayaking off of the boat. It was a very nice kayak trip with the exception of the large number of sandflys!

New Zealand Fur Seals

Another rare penguin, the fiordland crested. It is also one of the rarest penguins with 5000-6000 penguins left in the wild. You can see the yellow crest above the eyes.

Early morning in doubtful sound is beautiful. We were the only boat on the water and there were only 15 of us on the boat (usually 60-70 take the trip).

We even had some dolphins escort us back to the docks.

Milford sound is also very beautiful. It is also located in a remote location at the end of Milford road which is a destination in and of itself. Milford is shorter and, although remote, it is not as remote as doubtful sound. As a result it is a little busier and more amenable to a short 2 hour cruise.

Mitre peak is on the left and is supposedly the most photographed mountain in the country.

Mitre peak from the shore.

The drive to and from Milford sound

Another of our favorite spots was Queenstown. Queenstown is a great little city on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. It is the adventure capital of New Zealand if not the world. There are a ton of activities for adrenalin junkies including bungy jumping, skydiving, jet boating, and many others. We will get to those in another blog. Queenstown also has a lot of natural beauty with Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkable Mountain range, and one most beautiful drives in the world on the way to Glenorchy.

This is Lake Wakatipu on the way to Glenorchy.

Downtown Queenstown with the Remarkables in the background.

Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from the top of the skyline gondola.

We did a little zip lining from the top of the gondola. Arpita got a little fancy. Show-off!

We ended up spending a couple of days in Queenstown and met some interesting and fun people. It is definitely a place we would go back.

Have to give a shout out to Kurt and Adrian. Thanks for a great night and lively discussion! Your knowledge of American history and politics is impressive (for a couple of kiwis ;)).

Rain coming in on Lake Hawea. This was right before we crossed over to the west coast via Haast Pass and it was the beginning of several days of wet cold weather. The evening after we crossed the pass the heavy rain washed it out and forced its closure.

Sheep grazing on the shore of Lake Hawea

Thunder Creek Falls near Haast Pass. One of the few things we could actually see as we drove over Haast pass.

One of the draws of the west coast is the glaciers. The Fox and Franz-Joseph glaciers extend to less than 1000 feet above sea level and exist amongst a temperate rain forest. Unfortunately some of the same weather patterns that feed the glaciers also kept us from exploring them, precipitation. This area gets approximately 5 meters of rain a year. The Franz Joseph glacier is only accessible by helicopter and, with the exception of a 30-45 minute window, there were none running on either of the days we were in the area. This is also one of the other areas with views of Mount Cook.

We did see a nice rainbow near the base of the Fox Glacier.

This was near the base of Franz Joseph.

A rainy view of the Franz Joseph glacier.

The view minus the rain.

One of the things I forgot to mention is that New Zealand has a lot of one lane bridges. Even on major roads you come across these things. Some are more treacherous than others. This was one of my favorites. This bridge is shared not only by 2 lanes of traffic but also by a train! And there are no signals to indicate if a train is coming!

For our anniversary (September 29) we drove to Kaikoura via Arthur's pass. Once again a bit of cloudy weather but it was still a pretty drive.

Lots of playful lambs

We did actually go out to eat at a nice restaurant in Kaikoura called the Green Dolphin. We had eaten mostly in the campervan prior to this.

We went on another whale watch in Kaikoura. We saw several Royal Albatrosses…

A sperm whale (the largest toothed mammal)….

Another colony of fur seals, and some Hector's dolphins (smallest species of dolphins)

Unfortunately the weather was not good again and what should have looked like this (this was taken from the internet)…

Looked like this

We started October near Nelson which has numerous wineries and is also the craft beer capital of New Zealand. This is the view over the vineyard of Woolaston winery.

Farewell spit, the northern most point of the South Island.

A popular activity on the north part of the South Island is kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park. This is what we did for Arpitas birthday! We saw some amazing wildlife and met a really fun newlywed couple from the states, Conner and Sarah. It was a blast.

Here is a New Zealand Fur Seal. A few swam around our kayaks.

We also saw our fourth species of penguin (3rd in NZ), the Little Blue Penguin. This little guy swam right through our kayaks. Pretty cool.

We finished the trip off with some great beer and new friends at a local brew pub in Motueka.

As you can probably tell we loved the South Island! It is a wonderful and beautiful place. Stay tuned for the North Island!



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